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Hey, Hanukka starts tonight! If you were planning to desperately run around all day looking for gifts, calm down, because you can find some choice items at your nearest music store.
FOR THE POP FAN:
As I Am
On her third official album, the neo-soul songstress keeps skirting the fence between classic rhythm & blues splendor and generic pop sameness. While there's a lot to like, the general feeling here - as on her previous efforts - is that Keys has a stupendous album waiting to be born, but this isn't quite it.
Jamaican rapper Sean Kingston may only be 16, but he knows which songs to sample. "Beautiful Girls" won't allow you to hear Ben E. King's "Stand By Me" the same way again, while "Me Love" turns Led Zeppelin's "D'yer Mak'er" into a beach party.
Serious music fans may head for the exits, but if you're in the dance hall, this sounds just about right.
Exile on Mainstream
There probably hasn't been a more nondescript rock band than Matchbox Twenty. Luckily, they can make fun of themselves.
Witness the title of this greatest hits collection, which admits they're stuck in the stagnant neutrality of the mainstream.
Impeccably performed (especially the six new Steve Lillywhite-produced bonus tracks), and imminently forgettable.
FOR THE CLASSIC ROCKER:
THE ROLLING STONES
A stunning two-CD compilations of the Stones' first five years, with an emphasis on their mid-60s singles heyday.
"Get Off My Cloud," "19th Nervous Breakdown" and "Mother's Little Helper" never sounded so good.
And the second CD just gathers more steam with the Let It Bleed, Beggars Banquet, Sticky Fingers triumvirate churning out one classic after another.
Pity the album stops before the band's pinnacle, Exile on Main Street.
This single-CD compilation is skewed drastically in favor of Santana's latter day collaborative efforts masterminded by Clive Davis, which has seen the guitar master paired with Jennifer Lopez, Rob Thomas and Michelle Branch among others. A smattering of early hits like "Evil Ways" and "Black Magic Woman" keep this from being a washout.
If the Bee Gees debut had been Saturday Night Fever, this would be a cool two-CD collection of their best disco-era hits. Tunes like "You Should Be Dancing" and "Stayin' Alive" have aged better than many of their disco contemporaries. But I'm still missing the absence of another CD focusing on their amazing 1960s output which rivaled The Beatles for tunefulness.
FOR THE MODERN ROCKER:
Until Tomorrow Then (The Best ofâ€¦)
Eccentric indie rocker Ed Harcourt has been making his quirky blend of endearing chamber pop and ballads since he was a teen six years ago. At ease touring with the likes of Wilco and REM, Harcourt's career overview (notice it's a "best of" and not a "greatest hits," since there really haven't been any) is engaging and full of intelligent, melodic pop. A fan of Elliott Smith might find a more light-hearted kindred musical spirit here.
The Black and White Album
Sweden's most potent musical exports crank out yet another garage rock comedy CD with The Black and White Album. The band's relentless Ramones-like attack is watered down this time with some production mishaps courtesy of The Neptunes. But the rockers work through the haze to recapture their sound time and time again.
SOME FEMALE VOICES, PAST AND PRESENT:
It may come as a shock at first to hear Joni Mitchell's once bell-like voice lowered an octave and somewhat gravelly. But no matter. Shine, Mitchell's return after many years' absence, is full of her signature phrasings, guitar playing and reflective, evocative lyrics untarnished by time. A reworking of "Big Yellow Taxi" is unnecessary. Mitchell is creating new classics now.
Songs of Mass Destruction
The former Eurythmics frontwoman continues to forge a uniquely focused solo career. This is adult contemporary pop at its finest, with Lennox's vocal mastery in complete control of the stylistic material. Accordions, slide guitar, and pianos provide the perfect backdrop for a winning collection.
Hits and Rarities
One of rock's most consistent performers effortlessly unleashes one pop masterpiece after another on Hits and Rarities. Disc One focuses on the hits, and in addition to the musts, includes Crowe's version of Guns & Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine". Disc Two offers up some gems ("Steve McQueen"), and some rocking live tracks. If this doesn't get you in the Hanukka mood, nothing will.
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